A Guide to the Different Types of Visas
Did you know that during the 2022 fiscal year, the U.S. saw a staggering 20.2 million nonimmigrant admissions? These include nearly 8.8 million I-94 nonimmigrant entries. And of these I-94 admissions, almost 3 in 4 were for pleasure.
Many of those nonimmigrant admissions require specific types of visas. The same goes for those who wish to be permanent U.S. residents or citizens; they also need such documents.
So, what are these visa types, and when do you need them? Are there citizens of other countries who don't need a U.S. visa?
Below, we've discussed the most common visa types, purposes, and who needs them (vs. who doesn't), so read on.
Nonimmigrant Visa (NIV)
Nonimmigrant visas are temporary travel visas for non-citizens or non-residents. They permit these individuals to enter the visa-issuing country temporarily.
The United States releases far more NIVs than immigrant visas (IVs). For instance, it issued over 2.79 million NIVs during the fiscal year 2021. However, during the same time frame, it only granted 285,069 IVs.
Here's a brief overview of the most common types of NIVs issued by the U.S.
The U.S. usually combines and grants a business and tourist visa in one: the B-1/B-2 visa. It's for people traveling to the U.S. for business, pleasure, or medical treatment.
The B-1 visa is specifically for travelers who wish to travel to the U.S. for business functions. Examples include those who want to attend business conferences or scientific conventions.
The B-2 visa is for people who wish to visit the U.S. as leisure or recreational tourists. It's also the visa applied for by individuals who want to undergo medical treatment in a U.S. facility.
Most people who wish to travel to the U.S. for business or tourism require a B-1/B-2 visa. There are a few exceptions, though, including Canadian and Bermuda citizens. They can stay in the U.S. for up to 6 months.
Exemptions also apply to citizens of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) participating countries. So long as they enter the U.S. for business or tourism purposes, they can do so visa-free and stay for up to 90 days. However, they first must obtain a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
Temporary Work Visa
Temporary work visas are for people who wish to work in the U.S. for a specified period. Most require prospective employers or sponsor organizations to file a petition first. Some examples of temporary work visas include the following:
- H-1B visa for specialty occupations
- H-2A visa for seasonal agricultural workers
- H-2B visa for skilled and unskilled workers
- P visa for artists or entertainers
The H-4 visa is another type of temporary work-related visa. It's specifically for the dependents of a valid H visa principal holder.
For example, suppose the U.S. grants you an H2-B visa, and you wish to bring your spouse or kids (under 21 years old). If your dependents receive an H-4 visa, they can go with you. However, they can't legally work in the U.S. with this visa type.
Student visas are for foreign citizens who wish to study in the United States. There are two primary types: F-1 and M-1.
The F-1 visa lets you undertake academic studies in an approved educational facility. It can be a college, university, or private secondary school.
The M-1 visa is for vocational studies, training, or non-academic courses.
Domestic Employee Visa
Domestic or personal employees include nannies, housemaids, and butlers, to name a few. They may apply for a B-1 visa to accompany their employers. Likewise, they may apply for one to join their employer who is already legally in the U.S.
Transit (C) Visa
A C visa is for foreign citizens who wish to transit through the U.S. to another country. For example, suppose you're a resident of the Philippines wanting to visit Mexico. You'd likely have a layover at a U.S. airport like San Francisco.
Even if you're staying in the airport throughout your entire layover in SFO, you need a C visa.
However, if you have a long layover and wish to see San Francisco, you must obtain a valid B-1/B-2 visa.
There are exceptions to the C visa rule, such as if you're a Canadian or Bermuda citizen. Likewise, you don't need a transit visa if your home country is part of the VWP.
Fiancée or Fiancé Visa
Also referred to as a K-1 visa, a fiancée or fiance visa is a nonimmigrant visa. It's for a foreign citizen with a U.S. citizen partner who intends to marry within 90 days of their entry to the U.S.
After the marriage ceremony, a K-1 visa holder can apply for a status adjustment. If approved, they will receive permanent U.S. resident status.
Immigrant Visa (IV)
An IV permits the visa holder to reside in the visa-issuing country permanently. Most countries, including the U.S., require this documentation.
In the U.S., most IVs fall under the immediate relative and family-sponsored category. However, visa applicants can obtain an IV through employer sponsorship.
Visas for Spouses of U.S. Citizens
These visas come in two primary types: the IR1 and CR1, and both are family-based green cards.
The IR1 visa is for a foreign spouse married to a U.S. citizen for over two years. This green card lasts for ten years, after which the holder must renew it.
The CR1 visa is for an immigrant spouse married to a U.S. citizen for less than two years. Although it's also a green card, it comes with several conditions. For one, the couple must stay married for at least two years.
After that, the CR1 visa holder must apply to have the conditional status removed from their card. They must do this before their 2-year CR1 visa expires. If they don't, they're at risk of deportation.
Employment-Based Visa Residency Options
Employment-based immigrant visas allow immigrants to work permanently in the United States. The U.S. makes about 140,000 of these visas available yearly to qualified applicants. They're hierarchical, though, granted based on five preference categories.
Apply for the Right Types of Visas
Remember: The two primary types of visas are nonimmigrant and immigrant visas. They are further categorized based on the travel purpose (e.g., B-2 for tourists or IR-1 for long-term spouses). They also have stringent requirements, and failure to meet such can lead to rejection.
So, always ensure you're applying for the correct visa. Also, provide as many accepted supporting documents as possible.
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